I sit cross-legged on a small cushion. Claire Pupo, 32, a Grass Valley-based astrologer and psychic healer, tells me to relax. Our eyes are closed and trancy synth music plays softly in the background. She tells me to take deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth.
“I’m going to channel the consciousness of the eternal mother and father and connect our spirits for this session,” whispers Pupo.
My aura is a dark blue, she says, masculine and difficult to penetrate. I’m carrying trauma in my hip, the physical manifestation of an old friend who is still with me, dormant, dark and lingering in my body.
“Your energy is starting to move,” she says. “It’s concentrated on your left side.”
The eternal consciousness tells her I tend to get overwhelmed and smoke too much weed. My root chakra is going dormant. It resembles a dwindling pilot-light that needs to be re-kindled. A half hour later, the diagnosis is that I’m on the right path, though she advises me to tend to my past and listen to my feminine intuitions, warning that this is something which ego-driven Leo’s like me have a hard time with.
I leave the session with a whole body calm, deciding for some reason to listen to Bjork as I drive home.
Pupo is one of several local astrologers who have turned the discord of last year into a niche business opportunity. Astrology has edged its way into the mainstream, driven by the anxiety of national crisis and the ease and privacy of online platforms. Through social media, astrologers like New York-based Maran Altman have become public figures, attracting millions of global followers who pay for exclusive chart readings and astrology training. According to the publication Business Insider, the astrology app market generated $40 million in 2019, a 64 percent increase from 2016. And data published by news site, Axios, shows that one in four 18-25 year-old women in the United States have downloaded the astrology app Co-Star. On the dating app Bumble, you can filter people by their astrological signs. For local astrologers building an online client base, the answer why the industry is growing is simple.
“People are craving a connection to their deeper selves,” says Nevada City astrologer Bryan Scarbrough, who goes by the handle @fixedairmoon. “Something is calling to you, and you either listen to that or you keep getting reminders until you dive into it. You don’t find astrology, astrology finds you.”
Scarbrough projects calm with his laid back drawl and unbroken eye contact. He quit his $60 an hour construction job to pursue astrology full time at the beginning of the pandemic. He connects with clients online.
“It felt like the right time,” he says. “I was called to do the work and I knew that if I didn’t, I was admitting to my higher self that he didn’t matter.”
A year later, his business is growing. He gives daily readings on his Twitter and YouTube channel and has a paywall-protected website where he charges members five dollars a month to access exclusive content such as weekly projections and readings for all 12 astrological signs.. Identifying as a more “intuitive” astrologer, Scarbrough makes his predictions based not just on the planets but on and his own philosophy which envisions a universal and underlying consciousness connecting all people.
Besides his paying members, Scarbrough works one-on-one with clients over Zoom for $100 an hour, or $65 for a thirty-minute session. He posts throughout the day on Twitter, engaging with each comment thoughtfully, even when it’s just an adoring fan commenting on his looks. In the comment section, the “prayer hands” emoji is a common response.
Ninety percent of Scarbrough’s customers are women, he says. “Women are governed by the moon so they’re more intuitive overall,” theorizes Scarbrough. “[They’re] more willing to accept the medicine of the stars and planets.”
Similar to Scarbrough, Pupo also decided in January of last year, to pursue a full time mystical career. She was driving with her mother when she was overwhelmed by a vision.
“I told my mom, ‘You have to pull over now’”, she says. “I was completely in shock. It was like a black slab of stone moved across the world in front of me.” That night she meditated and saw “sickness and a pair of lungs superimposed over a heart.” Her first thought was that she was terminally ill. But as COVID soon exploded across the globe, Pupo understood she’d had a premonition. As the world descended into chaos, her business began to flower.
Unlike Scarbough, Pupo’s client base is made up of a healthy percentage of repeat local customers. Many of them are members of the LGBTQ+ community. “They feel very comfortable here with me, says Pupo. “Cis-het [biologically male, heterosexual] men are probably my least represented demographic. In my opinion, this is due to cultural conditioning. Many men don’t want to be fully witnessed.”
Newcomer mystics like Pupo and Scarborough built their businesses largely through online marketing in the pandemic. But they weren’t the first ones to use the internet in the name of the stars. Throughout the seventies and eighties, Genevieve Vierling, 77, had a practice in the New York Hotel on Broad St in Nevada City.
“I used to have the hottest spot in town,” she says. “It was hoppin.”
Now semi-retired, she connects with new clients over LinkedIn, or through her astrology blog bluelightlady.com.
Vierling is amazed at the growing popularity of Astrology amongst the younger generations, though she admits that social media marketing is not her thing. But regardless of the platform, she says she thinks the work is what matters, and people seem to need the work more than ever.
“When I started practicing Astrology it was very fringe,” says Vierling. “But people have always needed guidance. And It’s amazing how technology has opened up the world. The word astrology isn’t a strange word with people now. Especially the younger generations.”
And what can the younger generations expect?
Scarbrough has an idea.
“We’re at the beginning of drastic change,” he says. “Pluto coming into Aquarius is going to be big in 2024. From that date until about 2043, we’re going to see a lot of government and institutions changing and transitioning. Better buckle up.”